Something cool that I’ve picked up / genetically inherited from my mum is our ability to strike up a friendly conversation with random strangers, usually the elderly. When I was little, and followed my mum to the hawker centre or market, she’d make small talk with the aged aunties and uncles whom we met along the way, or who shared our table.
And I guess most elderly folk are usually a tad lonely, especially in Singapore’s crazy pace of life, where most people won’t give you the time of day. So they are usually cheered when someone stops and bothers to spend some time striking up a friendly exchange.
A few months ago, I was at a bustling hawker centre, when a kindly old man asked if he could share our table. I said sure, and he proceeded to sit down slowly, resting his heavy bag of groceries at his feet. He then went to order some food, and when it arrived, I realised it comprised of two bowls of plain porridge and one dish of vegetables.
After overcoming some initial hesitation, I asked (in Mandarin) whether it’d be okay if I bought him a dish of meat and eggs. He was initially quite surprised that I was speaking to him. Then he broke out into a broad smile, and said 谢谢，不用不用。。。 So I went “Uncle, 只吃菜不够营养，让我买鸡蛋好不好?” But he continued, “不用不用，老人家吃不多，谢谢你不用。。。”
Not one to give up easily, I tried again 5 mins later. Gesturing at the stall right in front of us I said, “Uncle, 要不要喝Teh 或则Kopi我买给你.” Still unyielding, he smiled again and went 不用不用谢谢… So I resigned myself to making some simple conversation with him… before long, he finished his two watery bowls of porridge, smiled and said goodbye, and went on his way.
I guess even though I didn’t manage to up his calorie intake that afternoon, I hope his heart was warmed by the fact that someone cared enough about his nutrition, to ask after him.